Apostle Barbara Childress
Christ showing his credentials
We have no trouble seeing the spiritual value of the first four sayings of Jesus from the cross. A moment's meditation on each of them is all that is necessary to set our minds and hearts racing. But one glance at the words 'I thirst', and we are tempted to move quickly on. There does not seem to be much value in them. We err if we leap to such a conclusion. These words and the context in which John sets them actually embody exceedingly important and crucial truths.
The genuine humanity of Jesus
The first thing revealed by Jesus' cry, 'I thirst,' is the genuineness of his humanity. This is a crucial aspect of the plan of redemption that must be emphasized again and again. The nub of the matter is, to put it plainly, that there would be absolutely no salvation for anyone if the humanity of Christ was not for real.
The reason for this is not hard to grasp. It was humanity that sinned against God, and God's justice demanded that humanity pay the penalty of sin. That penalty can either be paid by each individual sinner, or it can be paid by a substitute. Jesus Christ came to be the substitute. He came to endure the penalty due to his people. He had to be a man in order to do this.
Scripture also makes clear that, while he was truly man, he was more than man. He still retained his deity. Here we come to one of the central marvels of his redeeming work. Since he was a man he could suffer as a man, but since he was God-man, he could also suffer for more than one man. Furthermore, he was able to suffer in a finite period of time an infinite amount of wrath.
The cry 'I thirst' is a human cry. It had been a period of several hours since a cup had last touched Jesus' lips. It probably was early the night before when he had supper with his disciples.
Think of all he had been through from that time. He had spent several hours praying in deepest agony of soul in the Garden of Gethsemane. While there he was taken into custody. He was maneuvered through various 'legal' ' proceedings. Then he was handed over to the Roman soldiers who proceeded to scourge him, crown him with thorns and mock him.
By the time Jesus spoke these words, he had been on the cross for a period of six hours. Herschel Ford says crucifixion is 'the most painful mode of torture ever conceived by man', and points out that the steady loss of blood brings on 'intense thirst'.
Bruce Milne, in his commentary on John's Gospel, also mentions 'the dehydration which was a prominent feature in the torture of crucifixion',and, in the light of it, says the cry of Jesus was 'wholly comprehensible'.
How thankful we should be for this cry! The other sayings of Jesus from the cross are of such a nature that we might be inclined to think Christ's humanity was not real, that he was God in an imitation humanity and, therefore, did not really feel any pain while he was on the cross. The cry 'I thirst' brings us back with a jolt from such imaginings. Jesus' thirst was real. Since it was real, his humanity was real. And since his humanity was real, he met this essential qualification for providing atonement.
We surely have to stand amazed at what he was willing to do for his people. He was not only willing to take our humanity but also to go so far in that humanity as to suffer burning thirst. Why did he do it? What possessed him to go to such lengths? Why would he cross that enormous chasm between heaven's glory and the extreme agony of excruciating thirst on a Roman cross? He did it all for his people. He endured physical thirst so that they will never have to endure spiritual thirst. In his humanity he thirsted for water so that we shall never have to thirst for God.
We can explain Jesus' willingness to stoop so low in another way. We can say he was willing to thirst on the cross because of another thirst that burned inside him, the thirst for the souls of his people.
The fulfilment of prophecy
That brings us to another aspect of the thirst of Christ, namely, the context in which John places these words. He writes, 'After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, said, "I thirst!"'
The impression we get from these words is of Jesus keeping a mental checklist. He had already suffered the wrath of God on behalf of sinners, but one more thing remained. The redemption that he was providing by his death had been anticipated in the Old Testament in striking detail. Included in those prophecies was the promise that he would be given vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21).
In order to prompt this fulfilment Jesus cried, 'I thirst!' The cry had its desired effect. The vinegar was immediately offered, and Jesus drank of it. It is no accident that John writes, 'So when Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished!"' (John 19:30).
We are mistaken if we think of Jesus on the cross as nothing more than a poor, passive victim. He was far more than that. He actively worked at his death to make sure it was exactly what the Father had promised it would be. It is tempting to think of Christ as a conductor and the various details of his crucifixion as the instruments of an orchestra. Under his conductorship, all the details were brought into harmony without so much as a single discordant note.
By emphasizing the fulfilment of prophecy, John gives us another proof of the validity of Jesus' claims. This was, of course, one of John's main concerns, and in his Gospel he labours diligently to prove that Jesus really was who he claimed to be. He points to seven signs that Jesus performed, signs that were extremely well attested because they were performed in the midst of many witnesses. But as powerful and convincing as the signs and witnesses to Jesus are, there is probably no greater proof for the validity of his claims than fulfilled prophecy. It is, of course, one thing to know that Jesus fulfilled prophecy. It is another thing to realize the profound implication of this. Most know Jesus was supposed to have fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, but very few seem to have any understanding of just how overwhelming this evidence is.
Josh McDowell helps us at this point. In his book Evidence that Demands a Verdict, he tabulates sixty-one major prophecies that Jesus fulfilled in his life and death. Amazingly enough, Jesus fulfilled twenty-nine of these on the last day of his life. These prophecies were made by different men during the five centuries from 1000 to 500 B.C.
McDowell shows us the profound meaning of fulfilled prophecy by citing Peter Stoner's book, Science Speaks. In it Stoner calculates the probability of one man fulfilling forty-eight of these prophecies. It would be equal to a blindfolded man selecting a specially marked electron from an inch of electrons. How many electrons are there in an inch? If we counted 250 each minute, and if we counted day and night, it would take us nineteen million years to count the electrons in a one-inch line of electrons! What chance would a man have of selecting a single, marked electron among so many? The same as one man had of fulfilling forty-eight prophecies of the Old Testament! And Jesus fulfilled at least sixty-one!
Ours is a day in which people speak of truth as something that is always fluctuating and changing. It is seen as a different thing for different people and it even becomes different for each individual as his circumstances and surroundings change. Take the time to survey the prophecies Jesus fulfilled and you will soon see that Jesus is not just true for some people under some circumstances, but he is true for all people under all circumstances. The fact that he so minutely fulfilled so many prophecies forces upon us a couple of indisputable conclusions. One is that he is exactly what the Bible proclaims him to be - the eternal Son of God. If he is the Son of God, we are led inexorably to the next conclusion: what he says is true and must be obeyed.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.